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Dhaka Wednesday,  Dec 19, 2018

Coal Set To Flare Tempers At Davos

Judy Peters, Davos, Switzerland

With less than two weeks until the World Economic Forum or WEF in Davos, a gulf has emerged that could signal a coup for US president Donald Trump.

For nearly half a century, global leaders have met at the Swiss resort to map out policy.

This year, International Monetary Fund boss, Christine Lagarde and her colleagues from the World Bank will defend their halt on funding for oil and gas along with an existing ban on coal, but Africa and Asia show no sign of backing away from fossil fuel.

In 2017, Sheikh Hasina became the first Bangladeshi prime minister to attend the forum.

India, one of Washington’s closest allies, has spoken in favor of Mr. Trump’s proposed clean-coal alliance, a pact of nations that will continue to use coal to generate electricity, but with the latest technology that brings down emissions to levels set out by the Paris accord on climate change.

Bangladesh has one of the world’s most ambitious power programs underway, with coal-fired generators set to slash the country’s energy deficit.

Between them, Asia and Africa have more than a billion people still living off the grid.

In November, at a United Nations climate meeting in Germany, David Banks – Mr. Trump’s senior advisor on energy — said the US would, “embrace like-minded countries to make America the partner of choice for clean fossil fuel.”

Mr. Banks unveiled plans for a clean-coal alliance covering all six continents with members including China, India, Bangladesh, Japan, Philippines and Nigeria.

Energy secretary Rick Perry echoed the call, saying the joblessness that stemmed from absent or unreliable power lay at the root of poverty, migration and young men joining militia groups.

The proposed alliance ropes in Poland, South Africa, Indonesia and Australia, and, with the US and Latin America, could cover 60 per cent of the world’s population.

Mr. Trump made resurrection of the coal industry a key plank in his 2016 run for president. Since his inauguration a year ago, the world price has risen, unemployment in the US is at a 17-year low, and the White House has signed off billions for research on how to burn fossil fuel with low emissions.

The president has made hundreds of references to clean coal in his tweets and speeches and there is speculation he may include it in his first State of the Union address due on 30 January.

The European Union is divided.

Britain and France are committed to reducing the use of fossil fuel. But the Netherlands is the world’s largest importer of US coal while Poland has increased consumption and, without it, Finland’s winter heating would depend on a single gas pipeline from Russia

South Africa, Tanzania, Australia and Bangladesh have been critical of the World Bank ban on funding for projects using coal and all are expanding their use.

Nigeria is one of just four African countries to maintain an embassy in Dhaka, and Nigerian finance minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, who will attend the Davos meeting, has long put her views on record.

Mrs. Adeosun says it is hypocritical for developed countries to criticize Africa when their own economies were built on generations of coal.

Nigeria has an electricity shortfall, and former power minister, Dr. Chenidu Nebo is equally clear.

“I think Africa should be allowed to develop its coal potential,” he told Scientific American magazine. “There are so many areas in Africa where this will help to generate power for the over 60 percent of Africans who have no access to energy at all”

India plans its largest-ever delegation, led by prime minister Narendra Modi who will be among the first group of speakers before flying back to Delhi to host Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

This year, instead of a single guest of honor, all 10 leaders from ASEAN will be at the Delhi event after which the group will hold informal discussions on, among other things, electricity and fossil fuel.

As neighbors, India and Bangladesh have a tradition of attending each other’s national days.

For 50 years, John Owusu, originally from Ghana has worked as an engineer in both Europe and Africa.

Now retired, he believes electricity is set to become the issue of our time.

“It’s hard for those in developed countries to grasp how difficult life is without power,” he says. “Not just lights or charging your phone, but no industry or development, no hope of a job. Try turning off your fridge for a day. Or imagine a hospital without the most basic equipment.”

Owusu describes it as the new fault line in politics. “Cheap, reliable power is one of the most sensitive topics in the developing world and millions don’t have it.”

The problem, he says, could fracture meetings like those in Davos or summits hosted by the World Bank, even the UN.

London-based consulting firm Wood MacKenzie, who specialize in energy, take a similar view.

“Coal-fired power is facing strong headwinds globally, but it will dominate emerging markets in Asia in the next two decades,” according to the company’s January statement. “Affordable electricity remains a priority for governments in the region, and coal offers base-load supply at the lowest cost.”

Search news on the Net for January 2017, and it’s hard to find the words clean, coal and alliance on the same page.

A year later, as Davos gears up, India hosts the ASEAN leaders and White House aids work on Mr. Trump’s State of the Union speech, the phrase sounds more like a war cry.

“After the US election, when it was just Trump and his cabinet talking coal, those who opposed his policies could write him off,” said Mr. Owusu. “Now he has some of the world’s biggest economies set to join his clean-coal alliance.”

The change, he says, is because “politicians in Asia and Africa are listening to people on the ground.

“The folk who run Davos or the IMF are not very good at that.”

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